Group tours old Roe Jan School for possible housing

ANCRAM—Columbia County is getting serious about addressing the need for more affordable housing county-wide and the old Roe Jan School on Route 22 in Copake may play a role in the movement.

At the December 15 Ancram Town Board meeting, Councilmembers Bonnie Hundt and Amy Gold reported that a representative from RUPCO (Rural Ulster Preservation Company) recently took a walk-through of the crumbling building and grounds that have been unoccupied for more than 20 years.

The school became vacant in 1999, when the Taconic Hills School District moved all its students to one new campus at 73 County Route 11A, Craryville. The first graduating class at the new home of the Titans was the Class of 2000.

The old school, built in 1932 of brick and masonry construction with a slate roof, is mostly two-stories, with a subsequent addition in 1962. It has more than 97,000-square-feet of space and is situated on 39.3 acres in Copake.

Ms. Hundt, a member of the Roe Jan Workforce Housing Task Force, said in a follow-up phone call this week that she had contacted the 501c3 nonprofit to let them know about the availability of the old school and to get their assessment of its possibilities. The task force has members from the Ancram, Copake and Hillsdale communities and meets monthly at the Hillsdale Town Hall, Ms. Hundt said. Hillsdale Town Supervisor Chris Kersten serves as chair.

RUPCO’s mission is “to create homes, support people and improve communities,” according to its website (rupco.org)

The organization’s corporate resume says in part, it was formed in 1981 and re-branded in 2013 as “RUPCO.” It began as a program of Ulster County’s Community Action Agency as part of a statewide roll out of rural preservation and neighborhood programs. Through the years, RUPCO has expanded its geographic footprint and breadth of services while staying true to its original mission. “The agency’s Real Estate Development ventures extend beyond small towns into the hearts of Hudson Valley cities, creating over 500 affordable housing units through historic preservation and new construction initiatives, and managing a total of 771 apartments that are home to over a thousand people. RUPCO’s HomeOwnership Center has helped over a thousand first-time homebuyers achieve their dreams of owning their own homes and has assisted a similar number of homeowners with rehab modifications…”

Ms. Hundt told those at the Town Board meeting that RUPCO “seemed to be quite interested” in the Roe Jan building which has extensive grounds, noting the organization prefers “rehabbing as opposed to building new.”

Ms. Gold, who went on the tour with the representative, said that the original intent was to assess the building for workforce housing. She said though the building “is in terrible disrepair” and much of it would have to be torn down, the representative thought there were elements of it that could be salvaged to maintain its historical designation.

As the representative looked at the whole campus, though he made no commitment, he said he could see it as a multi-use project with senior housing, affordable housing, a community center and shops, Ms. Gold said.

Councilmember and Ancram Fire Chief David Boice said “that building is worthless” because it was not properly closed and “it froze.”

He said he was “shocked that we are talking about affordable housing in another community at a far distance.”

He said “nobody understands that to staff our fire company and do other things in this town we need people living here.

“If you are going to wait for people to get here from Hudson or Hillsdale these things are not going to operate.” Mr. Boice went on to note that when a fire company no longer operates the cost of fire taxes and fire insurance is going to “astound people.”

Mr. Boice also made the point that there has to be some reason for young people to want to live in Ancram. He said, “there are no jobs and young people are not staying here.”

He said, “We should be making a real effort to keep young people in Ancram. We need them in our town for a lot of reasons.”

Ms. Hundt said at this point the Roe Jan Task Force is just gathering information. Though she agreed with Mr. Boice that Ancram needs affordable housing, she said the town does not have anything on the scale of the Roe Jan School to rehabilitate. She said that is what non-profits are interested in. “It’s more affordable to them.”

Ms. Hundt said when the county’s new housing task force is up and running all housing groups, including Habitat for Humanity can combine efforts to tackle the issue.

“We’re just learning how to make it all happen, it’s complicated.”

Ms. Hundt said by phone that the Roe Jan Workforce Housing Task Force awaits a final word from RUPCO about whether a housing project at the old school is something the non-profit wants to pursue.

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